the amazing expanding me

I’ve had a lot of askings as to how I am doing these days, so I’ll begin by saying this: I am healthy.

But it’s bad.

It’s so, so bad.

Twin pregnancy week 16: I’m already toting a medium-sized watermelon. I’m out of breath. My hips crack when I walk or when I shift my weight laying down in bed. I’m getting hot flashes for crying out loud, and I’m no longer just constantly nauseous–I’m throwing up a few times a week for fun, with bouts of wicked acid reflux in between to keep things unpredictable. Massive headaches are a thing. Exhaustion doesn’t begin to describe how tired I am between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m sleepy while I am sleeping.

Speaking of sleep, the pregnancy dreams are vivid and sick. There are always wolf cubs involved, and I seem to wind up with a really cool zipper pouch where a c-section was performed. (Low-key bummed that an actual kangaroo-style zipper pouch is probably not an option.)

I’m so afraid of how stupid big and immobile I’m going to get over the next 4 months. My doctor wants to get these babies out by the second week of December; I can already tell my body will be in complete agreeance with that time frame, and I will have me all seven of my children in my arms well before Christmas Day.

All that said, I’m in good spirits (though the look on my face would suggest otherwise) and the thought of welcoming two healthy little babies into our lives keeps me going, mentally, while burping through my tears on the couch.

And nobody’s a better husband than Caleb, who is thoughtful, attentive, and caring, times two.

Names have been all but officially etched in stone; I expected a lot more pushback on some of my choices but as it turns out, my husband has acquired way cooler tastes over the last 14 years of having children together, and while I still couldn’t get him to embrace Bernadette and Dorothy, I’m pretty happy with what we’ve settled on. (Other names included in the cut list are as follows: Thora, Daisy, Margo, and Cordelia; Hamish, Dominic, and Calder on the boy’s side.) (Caleb finally stopped suggesting Riddick and I couldn’t be happier.)


Sweet times

Nursing a pretty massive late-night-fireworks hangover today so bear with me.

These summer days are great. Arbor hangs out in her underwear from sun up to…sun up. Her hair is permanently tangled and when I try to brush it, she states indignantly “This is ME!” (Same as when I ask her to put on clothes.) She’s a wild spirit, strong-willed and ferocious and I’m fast losing the ability to manage her in general. Summer is made for kids like this; she has a sprinkler, sidewalk chalk, popsicles, and a living room full of toys. She roams freely between the house and the porch and the front yard and her favorite climbing tree–no cold weather to stop her, no coats or shoes to worry about. It’s good to be Arbor Joy.

Lucy is the perfect child. I cannot describe her any other way. She’s cool and calm and smiley and cuddly; she takes naps and sleeps 12 hours straight at night. She eats everything I make for her. She gives slobbery kisses whenever the mood strikes her. She babbles and shrieks. She is a bit adventurous and climb-y, but this is nothing we can’t handle and the big kids are a humongous help when it comes to keeping an eye on the little ones.

Merrick is an antsy little ten-year-old. He’s forever designing/inventing/constructing/DE-constructing, and I can’t keep him out of the tools (that he’s probably not supposed to use). As much as I hate the inevitable messes that come with these projects, I admire his energy and I marvel at his creativity. He’s the kindest, most gentle and patient little boy I’ve ever known, and that’s not just mom-bragging; I’m in actual awe of his superior big-brothering skills.

Mia stays fairly busy with softball, and workouts, and church camps and get-togethers with friends, and texting her friends, and being lost in her music. She’s so tall and strong and beautiful that I can hardly believe she belongs to me–that she is the same sparkly-eyed little preschooler climbing trees in her Mary Janes and camo shorts just last week.

I’m nothing except utterly exhausted these days. There is no Toni anymore, only a factory running on fumes to turn food into babies. I’ve become completely anti-social: too tired to leave the couch, too much in a brain fog to carry on a conversation lasting longer than five minutes. I experience a number of incredibly uncomfortable twin pregnancy symptoms, and I’m happy to deal with all of them and more as long as the babies are alive and growing–which they are.

Pregnancy this time around, though, to be clear: it’s physically hard. Having a baby at 24 is infinitely different than having one (or two) at 38. My body is already working double time on producing those wonderful hormones that loosen your hips and wreck your back, according to my doctor. Five full-term pregnancies under my belt and all my parts are like “oh, this again? I’m on it.” So here I am just barely entering the second trimester yet feeling (and looking–yes, looking) at least six months along.

We should find out the answer to the big question at our next ultrasound within the month. On daughters vs sons, I have zero preference–losing babies will do that to you. We have names chosen in any case, and plans for their nursery, and a switch on the horizon for Lucy (upstairs she goes–an official big-girl move).

I want to burn these days into my memory. Part of me wishes these kids would stay this way forever; the other part of me knows there are exciting things to come for each of them as they grow older, and I look forward to that. Our family has changed so much over the past fourteen years, and it continues to do so. I love it, I’m thankful for it, and I’m ready to embrace the next chapter.

Harsh realities

Today I ate cold, leftover hamburger meat, straight out of the ziplock baggie I found it in, for breakfast at noon, and then washed it down with almost a half gallon of whole milk. I spent the next hour laying down, trying to decide between a nap or a barf sesh.

And that should pretty much tell you everything you need to know about week 14 of a twin pregnancy.

Y’all I can’t move. And I’m cool with that. I have zilch energy. Clothes are fitting funky.

It’s happening.

And it’s finally sunk in: two babies. Two sets of clothes. Two cradles. Industrial-strength breast pumps. A complete tear-down and reorganization of Lucy’s soon-to-be-old room. A major shuffle in the upstairs room. Boxes. Paint. Freezer meals. So many freezer meals.

My dream goal is to complete all physical tasks by mid-October, when, I’m to understand, I’ll be too huge to think straight. And, if things go as they customarily do in my house, our to-do list will be complete by 2021.

Some things I’ve learned about being pregnant with twins:

•Don’t Google twin pregnancy bellies.

•Take naps. If you can’t sleep, take a nap. If the kids won’t sleep, take a nap. If you want to survive at all, take a nap.

•Eat. Because if you don’t…(*shudders*)

•Try not to get stung by a wasp on your arm while you’re obsessively counting the apples on your apple trees for the third time in one day, because then you might get a terrible localized allergic reaction and have to go to urgent care and get a shot in your butt.

•I’m still in denial that I’m probably headed to urgent care for a butt shot.

•Maybe don’t chug a half-gallon of whole milk.

Just a mom

I’m noticing a recurring theme in the things I’m studying/watching/hearing/struggling with over the past two weeks or ten years: Chill out. Slow down. Calm down. Take it easy. Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s okay.

Part of me gets it: “yeah yeah yeah, we’re all way too busy. We shouldn’t overload our schedules, we need to make more time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, etc, etc, fine fine fine.”

The other part of me fights this to the core: “If I get any more chillax, I’ll be dead. Nap say what? There’s too much to do. I can knock it all out and then some. I have about eighty places I have to be all within the next hour. There’s not enough coffee for this day. Or any day. I can feel my pulse in my ears.”

My true friends know that Toni is not the world’s most effective multi-tasker. That I do tend to lose it when, say, I’ve got to shower and brush my teeth all in one morning. It sounds like a cakewalk but when the freshman is debriefing me at the rate of 6000 words a minute for 7 hours, and the boy is building an unauthorized rock-wall in his bedroom, and the 3-year old is shrieking at the top of her lungs because I’m not being a very good mermaid, and the baby just shat herself in a way that requires me to mop the floor…looking good usually ranks low on the list of my daily priorities.

I had a mild episode last night. I cried ugly about all my worries, including, and definitely limited to, taking care of 2 newborns when just one of my current children requires 1000% of my energy and attention.

How do people parent and do things?

I used to have goals unrelated to raising kids: Paint murals. Start a business. Gain a following on Instagram. Write a book. Run a marathon. Feed the poor. Travel the world. Run a company. Make money. Cook delicious food for tons of people on a regular basis. Make cute videos with my family. Design logos. Sell my paintings.

You guys?

I don’t care about that stuff so much anymore.

I once had beef with our family’s Wednesday night routine. Kids’ church left all of us overwhelmed and drained and usually crying. A friend of mine told me that anything worth doing was going to take sacrifice (I agree, for the record) and that she understood the struggle because she, like me, had once been, after all, just a mom.

I know there are women out there who manage it all. I know there are people who balance the family, career, social, and spiritual aspects of life, and that it is no easy task. I know there are women out there sacrificing and hustling and killing it and I will never be one of those women.

I’m just a mom.

And I’m finally at a point in my life where the “just” part doesn’t embarrass me.

I won’t be running a marathon anytime soon obviously.

I have no intentions of writing a book.

Dinner parties are on hold indefinitely.

People are gonna have to paint their own murals and design their own logos.

I’m not taking online courses in any subject. For the foreseeable future.

I don’t want to live with a stomach ache thinking of all the things I’m not accomplishing; I don’t want to be a grouchy, resentful woman who wishes she could have been successful in all the ways that don’t even count.

But I will make sure all seven of my kids know that I love them. I will feed and bathe and clothe and educate and pray for six souls (seven if you count the 22-year-old, and eight, if you count my husband–and you should count my husband.) I will make my home a welcoming place for my family and my friends and the friends of my family and the families of my friends.

I will brush my teeth. I will paint pictures and sell them if I’m lucky. I’ll read books without the promise of some sort of certification or degree. I will go for walks now and runs later–stopping dead in my tracks to gawk at sweeping views of emerald fields and country sunsets.

I’ll sit on my front porch and hold hands with my husband in the mornings. I’ll snuggle babies. I’ll tie shoes and write notes in lunch boxes. I might even make it to church on Wednesday nights. I’ll cook tomato soup. I’ll pet sheep and feed chickens and pick apples and blackberries with no less than four little ones clinging to my legs and I will love every second of it because I can, because I’m just a mom.

It’s not marketable or career-friendly, but we will have just a plain old life marked by love in a house my husband built. And there will be no greater goal this just-a-mom could ever aspire to.


Pregnancy update: I’ve popped. There’s no hiding this tummy full of twins. I’m still starving and exhausted all day errday, but it’s temporary (at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.) When it comes to napping, no one has to twist my arm. The struggle to stay awake is REAL. I want hamburgers and only hamburgers. All the hamburgers. Twin pregnancy is no joke.


Caleb has no chill when it comes to having babies.


We’ve had a lot of well-meaning people say to us “Oh I hope it’s boys. You need more sons! Caleb deserves more boys!”

Well let me tell something to you.

If there’s one thing in the whole wide world my husband deserves, it’s daughters.

I love him, and he’s a changed man, but he was a player for far too long, and a scoundrel one too many times, and it’s come back to bite him right in the freakin’ face.

This man deserves all the girls.

Karma is not a bitch; she’s a pretty little freckle-faced ninth-grader who just figured out boys exist.

Karma is a psycho 3-year-old with wild blond curls and ice blue eyes, who wants to drink cranberry juice from a Minnie Mouse cup on the way to the ballpark in a ballerina tutu.

Karma is a delightfully adorable, smiley, sparkly-eyed little baby who snuggles her daddy’s scratchy chin and coos and kisses and basically reigns supreme and gets everything she wants with her sweetness.

Karma is also a 38-year old woman who can’t stomach her coffee because she’s pregnant with twins. (So, maybe Karma is a little bit of a Krusty Krab.)

Caleb deserves to be there for every heartbreak, for every victory, for every single solitary daughter-unique issue that may crop up over the course of the next forever. I love watching him with our children. He’s a good dad to girls.

Plus we do have a son–and if that’s the only son we ever have, Merrick’s the best of the bunch.

And if God so wills it for our family, we will have babies who arrive alive; whether they are sons or daughters is not something I’m so concerned with. I will be so happy to welcome any combination of kiddos, and if it happens to be a set of daughters, we all know why.

the day my head exploded

Well. I tried. I tried so hard to not say anything. I really did.

You guys I’m all about government officials creating foreign policy based on what they believe is in the country’s best interest. I’m not saying I always agree with it, but I can at least try to respect a decision made for honest reasons. (Unless the decision is completely evil, like separating children and parents and locking people in cages.) Also?


Not a fan of Sarah Sanders and the Trump administration’s claims that they’re separating families at the US/Mexico border because its “very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.” Or Jeff Sessions’ little chestnut from the book of Romans about government officials being ordained by God for the purpose of order.

Ohhhh Kill me. DEAD.

I cannot with White House folk quoting scripture and falling back on “Christian principals” in order to defend the cruelty of the policies they created.

2 things: God gave us the words in the Bible. But because words just couldn’t cover everything, he gave us the Word Made Flesh: Jesus Christ. And that guy? Would not be too pleased about children and parents being treated the way our country is treating them. Cause, you know, that whole thing about every person being made in the image of God (however illegal). And the story of the Good Samaritan. And also the Beatitudes, plus the entire Sermon on the mount.

A god that condones the separation of children from their parents, or a god who turns away thousands of people fleeing their homes who are desperate to escape the tyranny and danger of their own country?

Is not my God.

Come to think of it, there’s not a verse in the Bible where Jesus says “Treat people like animals if that’s what the law requires, because Caesar is Lord over Me plus it’s in the OT. Why am I even here again?Geez, it’s almost like you guys need Me to show you a different way to live.”

And if we can’t take Jesus’s word for it, let’s reflect on the book of James. Chapter 1 verse 27 says “Pure and undefined religion in the sight of God is this: to look after orphans and widows in their time of need, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

“To look after orphans and widows”–I think it goes without saying that we’re meant to take care of all people in distress, no matter where they come from. I definitely don’t need the government to measure my obedience to Christ based on whether or not I agree with their heinous laws and practices.

And let’s talk about about James 2:13: “Judgement will be merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.”


The Bible is super convenient when we can quote a verse that suits our purposes. But what about the really hard verses that tell us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us? The chapters upon chapters and books upon books speaking out against injustice and against the satanic forces at work through the super powers of the day and age? What about lessons on forgiveness, and of turning the other cheek?

If we’re quoting the Bible for any reason, we can’t forget that Jesus was the embodiment of God’s loving grace and mercy. We must realize that we are the Romans, wielding our weapons and flaunting our power and sacrificing our humanity in the name of national security.

We must always remember that Jesus’s death on the cross points us to a newand better way: love.

Shoot People Say When You Have 2000 Children

It has been an interesting summer vacation so far. Not only did we find out we will be welcoming another McNugget into the family, we found out we were welcoming 2! This is as exciting as it gets around here, minus the time I thought we had killer bees in the attic. Twins! It’s a shocking thing, for anybody. I’ve discovered that people don’t always know what to say, which is fine since I myself don’t know quite what to even think most of the time.

Here are some of the most common conversation topics I’ve covered with loved ones, friends, and vague acquaintances over the past couple weeks.

•”You know what causes that, right?” –I think the answer to this extremely original question is clear: I know exactly what causes that, and I am obviously more than skilled at it. I don’t know how else to go about answering this question, and if you think the majority of people ask it jokingly or rhetorically, you’d be wrong.

•”Did you mean to have twins? Were you doing any fertility treatments?” –…I just have to smile and shake my head “no”. Because there are way too many of my friends who have sought medical assistance to conceive children, and I would hate to disrespect their journeys by writing this question off as absurd or thoughtless.

•”6 kids is too many.” –this person is right. I wonder what they’d say about seven kids.

•”I think more education and travel would solve your dilemma.” –Rude and hurtful statement made by a childless someone who clearly knows very little about me. Also, my children are not dilemmas. They are awesome and no amount of education or travel will make me change my mind about that.

•”How are you going to afford six kids?” –This is the question of the century and it is actually a very valid one. I don’t have a solid plan on paper yet (other than our detailed, non-negotiable family budget). I imagine I will not be buying anyone the latest iPhone, or IPad or tablet or laptop or PsXBox560D, or sending them all off to multiple sports camps throughout the summer. I hope they’ll survive those hardships because they’ll also have to worry about not getting a brand new Nike wardrobe upon the changing of every season. My hope is that by simply providing a loving home, and meeting their physical needs, and–this is a long shot, but what the hey–connecting with them rather than buying them all the things–they will grow up to be emotionally fulfilled, intelligent, Jesus-loving human beings who contribute positively to society. Fingers crossed.

•”But…Food?” –I know. I know. My kids are half-locust, so the grocery bill is a concern. So, while their friends snarf Sonic and Subway eighty times a week, nutritious home cooked meals is a disadvantage we will all have to live with. I am sad to report that Lunchables have never been a thing in our family and we haven’t starved yet, though my children have had to suffer through life with the brown-bag standard of peanut butter-on whole wheat sandwiches plus an apple for lunch everyday. We got eggs and bananas? We got ourselves breakfast. If we can afford Dr. Pepper and Chips Ahoy, we can afford carrots and broccoli. Plus I make a ridonk spaghetti-and-tomato sauce from scratch.

•”You’re just gonna send them off to fend for themselves after high school? What about college? It’s expensive!”: —I hear you amigo. Community Colleges, scholarships, and student loans exist for a reason; I know this because Caleb and I had the exquisite privilege of paying for our own continuing education, and we are better for the hard work we put in. They are welcome and encouraged to live at home to save money while they work and go to school. Of course, we want to help a little when we can, but that help will not come in the form of a free ride. Ever.

•”What about the baby stuff?”: –Poor Lucy never even had a stroller that went with her infant carrier. I can’t speak of it without tearing up. I’m just kidding, she was carried everywhere and she loves her life and so does everyone else. Breastfeeding is free and super fun. Ditto for cloth diapering and hand-me-downs. The crib she sleeps in is the same crib Cheyenne, Mia Merrick, and Arbor slept in: bought at a garage sale in 1996 for $50. Talk about bang for your buck! I hope this deprived babyhood didn’t make any of them feel feel neglected or unloved.

•”Hey Toni, I’m just concerned about your health. Pregnancy has not traditionally been easy on your body.” –YOU, my friend, are an absolute gem and I love you. This is quite possibly the only concern that needs to be voiced as far as adding to my family goes; and I appreciate the fact that you care enough to bring it up. Pregnancy has sucked in the past. I wasn’t sure I was up for it one more time around…and yet here we are, entering the second trimester without so much as one visit to the ER; I only just two weeks ago saw my own regular doctor for pregnancy stuff for the very first time. I consider this a blessing and there isn’t one day that goes by that I’m not thankful in the depths of my heart for the miracles in my belly, and for the physical ease of carrying those lives. God be praised.

•”Twins! What are you gonna name them?” –I mean, yeah it’s still pretty early on in the game to assume I’ve got anything nailed down yet. And since I’m petty, I just don’t share names this soon. Let me just say that our boy choices have always tended to lean toward the vaguely Scottish with a hint of Science-fiction/Fantasy; our taste in girls’ names are literally all over the board, but default to old-fashioned, obscure spiritual hippy.

Well, that’s the pregnancy update for week 12-13 (I left the doctor’s office in such a daze that I forgot to ask when my actual due date was.)

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